Summary (Identities & Issues in Literature)
The Moviegoer was Walker Percy’s first novel, and it won the National Book Award. The book did not, however, immediately attract a large number of readers. Its hero’s quest for meaning includes some consideration of philosophical and religious issues about which Percy had read deeply for at least a decade before he wrote the novel. Many either did not see what Percy is conveying in the novel or they rejected the novel as too heavy-handed in its presentation of nonliterary matters. Others consider the novel Percy’s finest work.
The quest takes place in perfectly ordinary settings. Binx Bolling, a successful realtor, lives in Gentilly, a middle-class suburb of the more colorful New Orleans, Louisiana. He has quietly disassociated himself from his genteel Southern background, which is exemplified in his Aunt Emily. His search for a new sense of self that does not depend on the imposing history of his Southern forebears generates the context of his searching. Instead of living up to his heritage, which he feels he cannot do, he immerses himself in the ordinary, looking for signals of meaning in his day-to-day life.
Moviegoing and affairs with successive secretaries give a refined hedonistic diversion to more important matters. Binx is a handsome man who finds it all too easy to be distracted from his quest and, instead, he avoids boredom as carefully as possible. As he becomes attached to his cousin, Kate, however, he changes because of the demands of her poor psychological health. Her previous attempts at suicide make her more than just another affair. His eventual marriage to her commits him to something that demands endurance; in fact, it leads him to the possibility of faith whereas for most of his life his family’s Catholicism was meaningless.
Part of the strength of the novel lies in its evocation of place. Percy is a master at giving a sense of setting and character. The story, told from Binx’s point of view, develops a rich sense of Southern personality based as much on gestures, speech patterns, and what is left unsaid as by what characters actually do say. The more subliminal levels of communication between people is captured precisely and with humor.
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Binx Bolling is on a search—a quest for the meaning of life in modern America. He often visits his great-aunt Emily’s home for lunch, where he talks to her about the cosmic importance of the lives of people they know. She wants him to go to medical school, but he frequents movies and watches television as a way of distracting himself from domestic realities and from personal involvement with those around him. He is a stockbroker who has affairs with his various secretaries.
At one of Binx’s luncheons with his great-aunt, she elicits his help in warding off a “nervous break-down” that is evidently forthcoming for his distant cousin, Kate Cutrer. Aunt Emily has found Kate’s hidden bottles of whiskey and sodium pentobarbital. Binx agrees to help; that is, he agrees to give Kate attention and keep her distracted. At a subsequent lunch, Walter Wade shows up to talk football and make preparations for Mardi Gras with Uncle Jules. Walter, an old fraternity brother of Binx, and Kate are engaged to marry.
Binx and Kate decide to watch the Mardi Gras parade together, in which they see Walter and after which they attend a movie. Slowly, over time, they fall in love with each other, and Kate cancels her engagement to Walter. Binx is attracted to his new secretary, Sharon Kincaid, and spends time with her. He eventually realizes, however, that it is Kate whom he really wants. It is revealed, in turn, that Sharon is in love with another man.
When Binx proposes marriage to Kate, she delays an answer. At the office the next morning, a Saturday, he invites Sharon to go swimming with him and to have a “date” for the day. She accepts, and they have a minor car accident. They exchange platitudes of love at the picnic on the beach. Binx takes Sharon to meet his mother and other family members; then, predictably, they go to yet another movie.
After going to church with his mother, Binx returns to the home of his aunt Emily, where he learns that Kate, that very morning, has attempted suicide. Emily discovered Kate before...
(The entire section is 842 words.)
Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
The Moviegoer won the 1962 National Book Award for fiction for Percy when he was forty-five; it launched his career as a novelist. As a novel of ideas, The Moviegoer consistently raises the largest questions of human life. Is there a God? If so, what is mankind’s relationship to him and to the quest of knowledge of him? As became Percy’s trademark handling of plot, much of the action of The Moviegoer takes place within the mind of the protagonist, Binx Bolling, who, nearing his thirtieth birthday, retreats to a mentalist existence, “sunk in the everydayness of life,” unequipped to live life to the fullest and baffled by its ambiguities and contradictions.
A successful broker in New Orleans and a war veteran, Binx nevertheless has few friends. Although he has had a number of affairs with his secretaries, he knows neither what friendship or love truly is nor how to find a purpose for living. Binx is stuck in the mundaneness of life, which saps his strength for caring and believing in others. Immersed in the ordinariness of his social life, family, and job, he is a “wayfarer” who feels homeless and abandoned.
Binx thus embarks on a quest for meaning that evolves into a veiled search for God. As a seeker he is discouraged, because “as everyone knows, the polls report that 98 percent of Americans believe in God and the remaining 2 percent are atheists and agnostics—which leaves not a single percentage point for a seeker.” He wants to be “onto something,” to feel authenticated as a human being, because “to become aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something.” In launching a search that takes him away from the consumerism and aestheticism of his environment, Bolling rebels against the mundanities of life: family heritage, job status, material good. Binx seeks a different kind...
(The entire section is 761 words.)